Sunday, August 9, 2020
Four stories revolving around people who stay at a Beverly Hills hotel: Diana Barrie arrives from London with her bisexual fake husband Sidney to attend the Academy Awards, since she is nominated for best actress in the film "The Left Turn". She loses, which causes a fight with Sidney, since he flirted with another man during the party, but the couple eventually reconciles... Hannah divorced her husband, writer Bill, and now wants to take their teenage daughter Jenny to New York. However, they agree for her to stay in Los Angeles... Due to a misunderstanding, Chicago visitors Dr. Chauncey and his wife Lola have to take a shabby room at the hotel, while their friends, Dr. Willis and Bettina, enjoy a luxury room, which causes friction during their tennis games... Marvin arrives from Philadelphia for a bar mitzvah, but his brother arranges for a prostitute in his room, Bunny. The next day, Marvin tries to hide a sleeping Bunny in his bed when his wife Millie shows up, but to no avail. Millie discovers Bunny, and is angry at Marvin, but still decides to go to the bar mitzvah with him.
One of the unjustifiably forgotten films from the 70s, this intellectual drama-comedy still holds up surprisingly well despite its disparate episodic structure—the first two stories are excellent, but the other two, involving Marvin and Dr. Chauncey, are rather thin, corny and underwhelming—yet screenwriter's Neil Simon's sizzling dialogues are so indestructible you simply enjoy crunching them down in your mind. Admittedly, Simon's script adaptations from his own plays were never truly cinematic—but then again, neither were Wilder's nor Lubitsch's films, since they all followed the similar low-key policy of forcing the viewers to focus on characters and what they say, and not on style. The opening of "California Suite" already delivers snappy lines between two people on a plane: "I'm a first-class passenger!" - "You're a first-class lunatic!" The episode with Hannah and Hollywood screenwriter Bill offers a lot of inspired "subtle insults" disguised as dialogues: "Are we bantering again? I'm a little rusty after 9 years." - "I haven't seen your newest film. I've been told it grossed a lot in backward areas."
Many of them are told too fast and thus the viewers might miss some, yet each 10 minute segment works finely for itself. It also presents a melancholic insight into a divorced couple who mourns after good old times, and who contemplates if their child could still rejuvenate their relationship in the future. The episode involving actress Diana and her gay-bisexual companion Sidney works like a charm due to the charismatic performances by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine, culminating in their fight since he does not truly love her ("Nothing personal." - "There is never anything personal between us.") and in their touching reconciliation, where she tells him to make love to her, but not to close his eyes, since she wants him to look at her this time. The other two stories fare less and could have been either improved or cut: the one with Dr. Chauncey works thanks to comedian Richard Pryor, though it feels stale and far-fetched at times (the lame sequence where their car was "crushed" by another car on top, and they are still inside). The weakest episode is the one with Walter Matthau playing Marvin, who is cringeworthy while trying to hide a sleeping prostitute in his bed from his wife, Millie. One funny moment at least partially gives it some value: Marvin tries to prevent Millie from entering the bedroom by telling her he is so excited seeing her he wants to sleep with her in the living room, which leads to a golden exchange ("You missed me? You've only been away one night." - "I know, but there is a 3-hour time difference"). Other than that, that particular story is rather forced and lax. Despite the director's standard approach, Simon's humanism and wit carry the film and give it spirit which works in the long term.
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
While traveling in their car through France, a married couple, Marcus and Joanna, come to terms with their relationship problems. They remember how they first met—a van full of choir girls fell off the road, and Marcus helped them get back on route, yet when one of the girls got chickenpox, he and Joanna went hitchhiking by themselves, slept over at an inn and made love. They met and traveled in the car with Marcus’ ex-girlfriend Kathy, who got married and got a kid. Marcus and Joanna got a child, as well, Caroline, but started losing that passion with time. They both had an affair. However, in the end, they reconcile and stay together.
"Two for the Road" is a bitter and somber contemplation on the difficulty of—not finding—but keeping and rejuvenating happiness in one’s life, to save it from stagnating into routine. Several scenes that depict relationship problems between Marcus and Joanna are contrived and forced, mostly in the first act: for instance, the engine won’t start, so Marcus orders Joanna to exit the car and push it, to help it ignite. Would any man seriously have a lady push his car, instead of doing it himself? Remarkably, no other tourist jumps in to help Joanna, and thus one might ask oneself: how can the viewers ever root for Marcus after that? Marcus is too much of a grouch, too often way to negative, but this is where the movie does not work: for all the great acting performances, how could any man be unhappy being married to Audrey Hepburn? She simply cannot be made annoying, nor boring; Hepburn is simply too enchanting for such a role.
Still, the film’s themes are palpable, nonetheless. One of them is that life is riddled with failure and disappointment: after their car literally went out in flames, Marcus and Joanna had to accept to stay at an expensive hotel. Marcus used an elaborate scheme to sneak apples and sardine cans into their room, figuring the restaurant in the hotel is too expensive, only to later find out that breakfast and dinner were included in the price. The movie is also surprisingly grown up in its dialogues (“...when sex stopped being fun...” - “When it became official”; "I don't understand sex. Why is it we enjoy it more when it means less?"), has humor (when a loud train passes by their bedroom window in the morning, Joanna looks at Marcus and jokes: "Sexy, isn't it?"), whereas it uses the “back-and-forth” structure reminiscent of the French New Wave to insert several flashbacks and ellipses in the life of the couple: in one of the best, after dozens of cars passed by the couple on the bridge, Marcus wows to God that he will always pick up hitchhikers if he ever gets a car; cut to the next scene, years in the future, of Marcus driving Joanna in a car, as they pass with their car over the same bridge, refusing to pick up two German hitchhikers. Despite everything, the movie is a celebration of the flawed humans who continue attempting to overcome all the disappointments in life, trying to re-invent happiness during dark times—because, what else is there to do?
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Oil company Connex merges with company Killen, which obtained the right for lucrative oil reserves in Kazakhstan, and thus lawyer Bennett gets the assignment to make the deal legal with any means possible... In Tehran, CIA agent Bob Barnes kills an arms smuggler. His new assignment is to kill prince Nasir in Beirut, but after getting beaten up by an Iranian spy, Bob decides to change his ways... In an oil-rich country in the Middle East, Pakistani immigrant Wasim loses his job in Connex. Due to desperation, he decides to become a terrorist and take revenge by blowing up a Connex-Killen tanker... Prince Nasir gives the drilling rights for oil in his country to a Chinese company, which angers the US and Connex. Even though Bob tries to save him, Nasir is killed by the CIA in order for his brother to change Nasir's policy and make a new oil contract with the US.
The episodic and fragmented story in the political essay "Syriana" is one of those that demand a lot of focus and investment from the viewers, and some may find it a hassle, but it rewards in the end appropriately, since everything in the end fits like a giant mosaic that gives a broader, unified picture of the events, and turns out as a good excercise for the brain. "Syriana" has no main protagonist—all the characters are just pawns in a giant geopolitical system of interests which clash with each other, in this case the oil industry which does everything to make a profit (and sustain the superpower status of the West at the same time), even resorting to criminal acts in order to "patch up" certain grey areas necessary to keep up the game. In its essence, the main theme is even simpler: greed and self-interest without limits, and the consequences left on all the people who find themselves in the way of the powerful ones. George Clooney is excellent as the slghtly overweight secret CIA agent Bob, from his first sequence where he kills arm dealers through a carm bomb in Tehran up to the tragic ending. Several lines are also quite somber, grim and sharp ("Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets!"). While raw and dry at times, with a few 'empty walks' here and there, "Syriana" is at times a fascinating holistic view of interconnected events of a system, and its "hypernarration" may have influenced TV shows which also depict several stories and characters as a whole, from "Game of Thrones" up to "McMafia".
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Hitomi and a guy strip naked and have sex, and she squirts multiple times. In the second segment, another guy has sex with the buxom girl. In the third, a man is tickling and stimulating Hitomi through vibrators until she has an orgasm. In the fourth, a man in a suit has sex with her.
Sometimes movies need to be reviewed for what they are. A comedy is judged successful if it makes people laugh; a thriller if it gets people trembling in suspense; a drama if it makes people cry. Congruently, if an erotic film could be judged by the same criteria, it would be as to how erotically exciting it is. Naturally, sophistication and ingenuity are needed in any genre—there isn’t much of it here, admittedly, but this film compensates this through some other features, which go so far beyond the spheres of possible, that they nullify a lot of the complaints. Sexuality is a part of life, and this is just what the movie shows. A theory goes that in modern times, when Japan is facing a pandemic of asexuality, nature gives a response to compensate this in people with hypersexuality, in order to bring back balance. Sexuality needs to be made appealing again in order for a declining society to survive and rejuvenate itself. And Hitomi Tanaka is among the people who have taken this role. She seems like an alternative Sada Abe, had she taken a career in movies. Throughout the film, Hitomi squirts 30 times. In the first segment, the man is very excited to see such an attractive woman, but during the course of their lovemaking, he seems to be taken aback—since Hitomi gets even more excited than he does. Her superpower is sexuality, and it is remarkable how relaxed, casual and even playful she is with it. Unlike other movies with her, this one is without gimmicks, perversions or roles—it is just about two people having sex, reduced to its essence.
In that first segment, there is some excitement captured on screen. The guy fingers Hitomi, and she squirts. They then have sex, and you might think she is done and has exhausted her potentials, but then they change positions, she is on top of him, and all of a sudden she screams and looks down—she squirted again, covering his abdomen with water, and seems to be surprised herself at the capacity of her own body. In the second segment, while having sex, she squirts 14 times in half an hour. At one point, the man uses his penis to vibrate left and right on her clitoris, fast, and she squirts once more. The most astounding moment is when the man stops having sex, but she is not done yet, so she lies down and masturbates, until she squirts again and screams: pandemonium breaks loose. What is the secret to this? Was the man just the right size? Or was she just in the right mood due to her hormones at that particular day? At any rate, it is remarkable to document such erotic pathos—for real, unacted. The third segment is kind of a cheat, since a vibrator is used to stimulate her, yet it is notable for the moment where she just squirts, on and on, for consecutive 15 seconds in a row. In the fourth segment, the formula is back again with the man taking the role of her pleasure. In other such films, the actors are faking it. She, conversely, really enjoys it—and embraces it. It is a celebration of life. Throughout her career, Hitomi Tanaka had been slowly, little by little, building up a giant monument to human sexuality, the likes of which have not been seen in the history of cinema. Critics often say these movies are a dime a dozen. Her’s are, on the contrary, one in a million.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Nishi is in trouble. He was fired from the police after a disastrous incident in which a criminal shot three of his colleagues, leaving one, Horibe, in a wheelchair; his child died; his wife, Miyuki, is dying from a terminal illness; and on top of all, he is in debt to the Yakuza, from whom he borrowed money to pay for his wife's therapy. Fed up with everything, and figuring he cannot lose anything anymore, Nishi uses a police uniform to rob a bank, return the money to the Yakuza, and then go away with Miyuki on a trip one last time. As the gangsters interupt him, he kills them. At a ski resort, Nishi kills even more of the Yakuza. Finally, he has one last nice moment with Miyuki on the beach, before he shoots her and commits suicide himself.
One of Takeshi Kitano's most famous films, "Hana-bi" is a dark, bitter and lingering meditation about a man who cannot escape depression and death: at times emotional, especially in the very touching ending, but it alienates the viewers through its sudden outbursts of bizarre violence and cruelty, and several heavy handed elegy elements (the too long sequence of paintings of animals with flowers instead of their heads). Its story and theme are reminiscent of "Dead Man" and "The American Friend", but Kitano stubbornly refuses to treat the film's structure in conventional means, and thus the whole narration "floats" freely between flashbacks and random episodes. Violent moments (Nishi stabs a criminal's eye with chopsticks) are followed by gentle ones (Nishi ignites a firework, nothing happens, so he goes to see what happened, and then the fireworks explode into his face, causing his terminally-ill wife to finally laugh), though Kitano seems to be forcing his "macho" persona a little bit too much: the scene on the beach where a man randomly starts insulting Miyuki for pouring sea water into her flowers seems to be just there for the dominant Kitano to "come to the rescue" and kick the man into water. Assembled out of static shots, with unusual tableaux framing, crafting a contrasting blend out of minimalism and action scenes, "Hana-bi" speaks about the contradictions in the world, in which bad things happen to good people, and how their suffering cannot be resolved. For all of its puzzling or questionable solutions and directions, "Hana-bi" has inspiration at times, which gives it spark: in one sequence, a Yakuza draws his pistol at Nishi, but Nishi then puts his own finger on the hammer, thereby blocking the firearm from shooting.
Friday, July 17, 2020
The soldiers are in disarray after discovering a Titan within the wall, suspecting that some of them actually protect humans from outside Titans trying to break in. When a Bigfoot-like Titan starts an attack on the outside walls, Ymir transforms into a Titan and battles the invading Titans. The other Scouts help her in the battle. Soldiers Reiner and Bertholdt reveal to Eren that they can transform into the Armored and Colossal Titan. The two kidnap Eren, and Ymir initially supports them, but the Scouts are able to save Eren and bring him back home. Eren also discovers a new power of coordination: to command other Titans to attack each other.
Two great sequences of suspense: in episode 2.2, Sasha arrives at a desolate house in the forest and finds a small Titan eating a woman on the floor, and everything goes wrong. Sasha tries to kill the Titan by hitting it in the head with an axe, but to no avail, since the monster is too strong. So Sasha takes a girl in the house and wants to escape with her from the scene of horror, but their horse flees. And the Titan then chases after them. In episode 2.5, while inside the walls, a small Titan appears from behind the door and bites at Reiner’s arm, but the latter then simply places the Titan on his back, climbs up the stairs, goes to a window, and then a soldier cuts off the monster’s jaw, thereby allowing Reiner to throw the Titan out of the window. There are also other good moments of Greek battle pathos, but they rarely connect as a whole and feel rather bloody chaotic and random at times, since the action is often rushed and, it seems, at times as if either the human soldiers are just plowing through a mass of Titans, or vice-versa. The storyline needed more versatility, and even this 2nd season of the “Attack on Titan” anime suffers from the same problems from season 1, namely being narratively confusing and sophisticatedly miniscule, since the motivations of certain characters (Reiner) are unknown at this stage, and thus the viewers again need to wait for the next season until a lot of plot points are properly explained. The sense for the epic can be felt occasionally, mostly in the contrast between the giant Titans and small humans who try to surpass them through their spirit and ingenuity, yet the story is still not completely as developed as it could have been, and a lot of characters are forgettable.
Monday, July 13, 2020
Ever since she exited an entrance of a playing ground in the style of the ‘98 horror film "Ring", teenage girl Sawako has been nicknamed “Sadako” and avoided by her classmates, who think that bad luck will befall anyone who just looks at her, except for a kind guy, Kazehaya, who supports her. Sawako makes friends with Yano and Yoshida, but avoids them because she is afraid they will suffer in school due to her own bad reputation, but the girls eventually tell her bad rumors should not matter. Kazehaya develops a crush on Sawako, but does not get a chance to ask her out. Finally, on New Year’s Eve, Sawako admits she loves him.
The live action film adaptation of the popular manga with the same title, "From Me to You" is a gentle and sweet little story about first love in high school between an outsider and a popular student, and it owes 90% of its appeal to the two wonderful, endearing actors, Mikako Tabe and Haruma Miura, who play their roles refreshingly relaxed. Tabe, with her really big hair due, manages to give a sort of ‘crazy look’ from bellow—with her eyes under her bangs—that is both cute and scary, convincing at times as outsider Sawako who is shunned by her class, though at other times this kind of seems silly, since she is never *that* different from other students, which makes this premise rather forced. The first encounter between Sawako and Kazehaya is beautiful: they meet under a blossoming cherry tree, and he picks up a heart-shaped petal on her hair, foreshadowing what will happen between them. Kazehaya is, luckily, a very intelligent, gentle and articulate teenager: in one sequence in the classroom, in front of everyone, a couple of guys jokingly announce that Kazehaya lost, and that his penalty is "having to date Sadako for a week". In every other generic teenager-film, the guy would make fun of the situation, try to get out of the situation or scorn upon the girl, but not here. Kazehaya actually stands up to the pranksters, rejects their insensitive behavior and asks them how Sawako now feels after their hurtful remark. That is a really fantastic reaction. Unfortunately, the movie loses its energy after an hour, and thus the second half is too often just an ‘empty walk’, without inspiration or some other funny sparks that would save it from a standard flow of events. The most annoying ingredients in that second half are typical movie ploys to artificially prolong the overstretched storyline—Kazehaya tries to go out with Sawako on a date, but is always hindered when someone else suddenly pops up on the scene, preventing the two to talk alone, in private. These artificial problems and artificial story flow in the second half rob the movie of its initial charm, yet it still has more than enough good parts to carry this adaptation. One of the sweetest moments is the opening scene in which Sawako’s father, a musician, abandoned his concert just to see his new born baby, and this goes full circle in the ending of the film: people need to realize what is really important to them, their feelings, and not about what society expects from them.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
After George and Bob again get fired from their jobs at a fast food restaurant, he gets a golden opportunity to be in charge of a TV station, Channel 62, which his uncle Harvey won in a bet. At first, the ratings plummet, but the viewers gain an inexplicable fascination with the show hosted by janitor Stanley, which catapults Channel 62 among the top 10 most watched stations. This angers Fletcher, the CEO of a rival TV station, who orders the kidnapping of Stanley in order for Channel 62 to fail at a fundraising event to pay for Harvey’s 75,000 $ debt. George, however, is able to save Stanley and Channel 62, as well as reunite with his girlfriend Teri.
"Weird Al" Yankovic’s feature length star vehicle is a disappointment: you have to plow your way through three bad jokes on average to get to one good joke—and some of the bad jokes really are crude and vile at times. 80% of "UHF" seems like some bad "Family Guy" episode: the episodic clip format is able to insert dozens of wacky jokes and parodies, yet it lacks that genuine sense for comedy and a tighter filtration process to distinguish which jokes work and which simply don’t. The films starts with an Indiana Jones parody, but its level never goes beyond the lame scenes of George turning his head for 180 degrees behind his back or using a whip to hack off (?!) the arm of a villain who aimed a gun at him. This whole intro could have been disposed off. Unfortunately, the rest is not anything better, either: for instance, in one scene, the aunt pulls George’s skin for almost 4 inches away from his cheeks. Wild, outrageous comedies are often the funniest due to their untrammelled nature, yet if the authors wanted to make a human cartoon, they should have done it with class: the Marx brothers and the Monty Pythons also often went into the silly territory, but watched out not to end up retarded—they were silly in a sophisticated way. This is what “UHF” lacks. In one scene, George hosts a show, and a guest accidentally cuts off his own thumb on a saw machine. The blood spills all over, and the guest is calm, but none of this is funny. So what’s the point of this scene? Anybody can write lame, shock jokes, but only selected few can craft funny ones. Only a couple of good jokes manage to be inspired, for instance the hilarious TV commercial which warns of bad funeral services, displaying a scene of legs of corpses sticking out from the ground of a cemetery, or the trailer for “Gandhi II”, in this edition, an action film. “UHF” seems like the authors had an idea for a good 20 minute comedy, but then had to prolong it to a feature film, and thus assembled a disparate collection of forced episodes with grimaces, but without a point, forgetting that a writer does not always use *every* idea that automatically pops into his head.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Scandinavia, 19th century. Jesper is a spoiled lad who deliberately flunks every training in order to never work for a living, so his rich father sends him to the remote island of Smeerensburg and gives him the task to work as a postman and to mail 6,000 letters or lose his inheritance. Jesper finds out the place is caught up in a long feud between the Ellingboe and Krum families. When he meets a strong old man, Klaus, who gives a present to a kid, Jesper has the idea of blackmailing kids into writing letters to Klaus to give them presents in order to meet his quota. But the kids must first learn how to spell, and thus the fishmonger Alva finally gets the chance to be a teacher in school. Little by little, this changes the place, reunites the two feuding families and starts a tradition on Christmas.
One of the better Christmas movies, "Klaus" works because it feigns to be a story of something completely else during its first three quarters of the storyline, one of those stories about a stranger arriving to a town just to change it, only to slowly reveal that it is actually an ironic “origin story” about Santa Claus. Besides a refreshing and nostalgic return to classically drawn animation (an art form almost extinct due to CGI animated films), this film is also captivating due to its amusing jokes, warm characters and an interesting message that, once started, the positive influences of education, enlightenment and philanthropy can transform a backward society from the bottom up, as a set of dominoes—as well that it does not matter if someone does a good deed due to selfish resasons, since the result is ultimately a good deed. Some jokes are corny (Klaus is so big that Jesper is barely able to share a seat with him in the carriage; Jesper is catapulted through a chimney to himself deliver presents) and the character of school teacher Alva could have been better developed, yet the final act is surprisingly emotional and touching—and what is best about it, it is done just right, measured, without ever turning too syrupy or melodramatic. The final scene neatly encapsulates how someone's good deed is able to capture the entire identity of the said person, and thus this blend of pathos and comedy works remarkably smoothly.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
A group of eight actors travels across Greece between 1 9 3 9 and 1 9 5 2 to perform their play “Golfo the Shepherdess”. During their journey, they witness history in the making: the invasion of Italian fascists; the occupation by the Nazis; the clashes between communists and democrats after World War II, leading to the follow-up Greek Civil War; and finally, the ‘52 elections in which the anti-communist leader Papagos was elected. Several of the actors join this or that cause during these years, and get either killed or disappointed.
Theo Angelopoulos’ most famous film, sometimes even regarded as the best Greek film of the 20th century, "The Travelling Players" is an overlong and overrated historical allegory, yet due to its contemplative amalgamation of important historical events and evocation of the cultural heritage of the wisdom of the Greek myths, it deserves to be seen at least once. Angelopolous crafts only 80 scenes across the running time of 230 minutes, relying on Tarkovsky-style long takes, yet, as elegant and aesthetic as these are, they are of rather standard fibre, without that much true ingenuity. The major problem in this approach is the lack of investment in the characters: while in his other films, such as "Landscape in the Mist", this worked because he had only three main characters and thus their identification was easy, here Angelopoulos presents eight characters—all nameless performers, and shows them all in shared wide shots, without cross-cutting or close-ups to introduce each character, aggravating the efforts of the viewers to figure out who is who. Only certain scenes manage to distinguish them, such as the one which shows the determination of a young actress who is willing to sing topless in front of a man masturbating on a rocking chair in order to get a bottle of wine for her troupe. Instead, it seems that the entire Greek nation during this era is the main protagonist, in a sort of collective observation.
The leader of the performers is a modern Aegisthus, a Nazi sympathizer, and snitches a man, the modern Agamemnon, an anti-fascist sympathizer, who is thus executed by the Nazis—in order for Aegisthus to have an affair with Agamemnon’s wife, the modern Clytemnestra. Her daughter, the modern Electra, thus summons her brother, the modern Orestes, a communist resistance fighter, who shoots Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, while performing live on stage—but the audience just erupts in applause, thinking it is all part of the play. It may have been that all the protagonists are deliberately one-dimensional because, as film critic Roderick Heath observed, the intent was to show how these characters are reduced to archetypes—they are interchangeable performers, only their roles are permanent. In one scene near the opening act, the performers are seen walking from the right side of a street, while a truck with a man throwing leaflets is shown, and a loudspeaker announces that people should vote for Papagos, indicating that the setting is ‘52. However, just a couple of moments later, the performers are seen walking on the other side of the street, while a man announces Goebbels’ visit to Olympia in ‘36. This demonstrates how different time eras can overlap on the same location, whereas the first scene is also the film's last scene, coming full circle, to bring the theme across: there is no history, events fluctuate, and some archetypal human cycles (loyalty, betrayal, scramble for power, greed...) are repeated again and again through time, just with different names and peoples.